YONKERS, N.Y. -- The Consumer Reports Money Lab uncovered hidden savings in everyday spending that could save consumers up to $500 per month. Using the strategies outlined in CR, consumers can trim their spending while gas and food prices continue to rise.

"It's surprising that there are so many savings opportunities hidden in your budget," said Jeff Blyskal, senior editor, Consumer Reports. "You don't have to radically change your life to save $500 a month."

The six tips are featured in Consumer Reports' August issue. The report is also available to subscribers at www.ConsumerReports.org. Savings shown are Consumer Reports Money Lab estimates based on what a range of consumers really spend and can possibly save.

$65 -- Find cheaper auto insurance. Annual surveys have shown that many CR readers have stayed with the same insurer for 15 years. Depending on people's profiles and where they live, they might be able to save hundreds a month by shopping around. For example, a married couple without violations or accidents but with a driving-age son in Los Angeles can save $380 per month on standard coverage by switching to a lower-cost insurer.

How to do it: Start at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Web site, at www.naic.org and click on NAIC States and jurisdictions to find your state's insurance department. Most provide comparative premium quotes based on standard customer profiles.

$110 -- Optimize life insurance. Premiums have dropped so dramatically since the 1990s; it will probably pay for you to replace a policy bought years ago with a comparable new one. A $500,000 20-year guaranteed level term from Prudential, for example, would have cost a 50-year-old man about $2,125 a year in 1998. Today the same guy, now 60, could pay Prudential $1,385 a year for the same coverage over the next 10 years, saving $60 a month.

How to do it: Get premium quotes at www.accuquote.com and www.lifeinsure.com. Don't cancel your existing policy until you have a new one in place.

$200 -- Shop smart for food. Making different choices in the supermarket and when eating out can net monthly savings from $130 to $255. The average family of four can chop its grocery bill by $190 a month by shifting to a lower-cost mix of foods.

How to do it: Plan menus around sales of fresh poultry, fish, meat, dairy, and produce, and make use of leftovers. Avoid costly prepared meals. Eat more low-priced high-nutrition foods like beans and potatoes. Try less expensive store brands, and sign up for store discount cards.

$25 -- Stop paying bank fees. Banks collected some $39 billion in account fees and penalties last year. That works out to an average of $28 per month per household. But with some planning, you can pay zero.

How to do it: Bank at large institutions with lots of ATMs in convenient locations. Shop for free checking and strictly adhere to provisions for a minimum balance, direct deposit, or other conditions to avoid monthly fees.

$35 -- Call up phone savings. When CR's experts examined real phone bills they uncovered savings from $15 a month for budget callers to $55 per month for heavy users.

How to do it: Peruse your last few month's phone bills to assess how many minutes you typically use on landline and wireless calls. Comparison shop among cellular service providers, the local phone company, and your cable TV company. Don't buy more than you need, such as an unlimited cellular plan if you rarely go over 900 minutes per month.

$65 -- Pay off your credit card. On average, consumers who carry a balance owe $2,200, on which they pay 15.2 percent in annual interest charges. Eliminate that and save $28 per month. Some 15 percent of consumers carry balances of $10,000 or more; they can save $125 per month by paying off their debt.

How to do it: Stop charging, then pay more than the minimum required each month until it's paid off. Dig up cash for this from your U.S. Treasury stimulus check, garage sales, or extra work part-time.

Actual savings depend on individual circumstances.

&Copy; Consumers Union 2008. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

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